Philosophy lessons for disadvantaged 10 year olds improves their reading, maths & writing scores – Education Endowment Foundation research


Teaching children as young as nine and ten to have philosophical discussions around topics like truth, fairness and knowledge can improve their progress in maths and reading by an average of two months, while the academic benefits seem to be more pronounced for disadvantaged pupils. This is according to the results of a new evaluation report of the inquiry-based learning approach Philosophy for Children, published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) today.

Disadvantaged pupils participating in the EEF trial saw their reading skills improve by four months, their maths results by three months and their writing ability by two months. Feedback from teachers throughout the trial suggests that Philosophy for Children had a beneficial impact on wider outcomes such as confidence, patience and self-esteem too.

Funded by the EEF and delivered by the Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education (SAPERE), the randomised controlled trial involved 3,159 pupils across 48 schools in the UK and was conducted independently by Professor Stephen Gorard, Dr Nadia Siddiqui and Dr Beng Huat See at Durham University.

Philosophy for Children is designed to help children to become more willing and able to question, reason, construct arguments and collaborate. For the EEF trial, teachers were given two days of professional training before the year-long programme began and provided with ongoing support to help them deliver the sessions and promote philosophical thinking in their pupils.

In a typical lesson, pupils and teacher will sit together in a circle, and the teacher begins by showing the pupils as a video clip, image or newspaper article with a philosophical dimension, to stimulate their interest. This is generally followed by short period of silent thinking time, before the class splits into pairs or small groups to generate questions that interest them. A question with philosophical potential is chosen by the group to get the whole class talking. These dialogue sessions are supported by activities to develop children’s skills in reasoning and their understanding of concepts.

At less than £30 per pupil, these results show that Philosophy for Children could be a promising and effective way for schools to spend their pupil premium and improve outcomes, particularly for disadvantaged pupils.

Also published today are the results of a trial of the Perry Beeches Coaching Programme, which aims to improve the reading and writing skills of Year 7 pupils with poor English scores through one-on-one or small-group tuition. The evaluation conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) found that the coaching programme had an impact for all pupils, including those from low-income families, of five additional months’ progress.

These are two of eight evaluation reports published by the EEF today. The other reports are:

· Word and World Reading Programme (Curriculum Centre)

· Shared Maths

· Affordable Individual and Small Group Tuition Primary;

· Affordable Individual and Small Group Tuition Secondary

· Talk for Writing (Primary Writing Project)

· Peer Tutoring in Secondary Schools

All the results will be used to inform the Teaching and Learning Toolkit, a resource developed by the EEF, Sutton Trust and Durham University, and used by nearly half of all school leaders.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation said today:

“These new reports highlight the importance of EEF trialling programmes to test their impact. All eight of today’s reports will add to the EEF’s growing source of robust and reliable evidence that teachers and school leaders can use to help close the attainment gap.”

Dr Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation said today:

“Philosophy for Children is a long established and well-respected programme. It’s absolutely brilliant that today’s results give us evidence of its positive impact on primary pupils’ maths and reading results. Given its low-cost, teachers should use these results to seriously consider whether philosophy sessions and promoting philosophical thinking could work in their classroom.”

Lead researcher Stephen Gorard, Professor in the School of Education at Durham University, said today:

“Our results suggest that these philosophy sessions can have a positive impact on pupils’ maths, reading and perhaps their writing skills. But crucially, they seem to work especially well for the children who are most disadvantaged. This is very encouraging as we, along with the EEF, are committed to helping tackle educational disadvantage.

“Evidence like this is extremely important in identifying what works and what doesn’t, and to help headteachers decide how to spend their pupil premium funding for most benefit to their pupils.”

Alexia Fox, Assistant Head Teacher of Hinde House School in Sheffield, said today:

“Philosophy for Children has made a huge difference to the way our children interact with each other. In the playground, they can talk about their disagreements. They now respect other children’s points of view. In the classroom, their ideas are far more developed as they are better equipped to understand how others think and accept that these opinions are all valid. Philosophy for Children is extremely valuable both academically and socially.”

For further information or case studies from schools, please contact Hilary Cornwell on / 020 7802 1676

For any interview requests for Professor Gorard, please contact Dionne Hamil at Durham University on / 0191 334 6078


1. The Education Endowment Foundation is a charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus Trust, with a Department for Education grant of £125m. It is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement. Since its launch the EEF has awarded £57 million to 100 projects working with over 620,000 pupils in over 4,900 schools across England. All of the new reports will be published online at on 10 July.

2. The Teaching and Learning Toolkit is an accessible summary of educational research developed by the EEF in collaboration with the Sutton Trust and a team of academics at Durham University led by Professor Steve Higgins. The expanded Toolkit covers 34 topics and summarises research from over 10,000 studies. The Toolkit is a live resource which is regularly updated as new findings are published.

3. SAPERE is the UK’s only internationally recognised provider of training and support for Philosophy for Children, a learning approach that 3,000 teachers and over 60,000 children a year, as well as other community groups, are adopting in the UK. Founded in 1992, SAPERE is a registered charity based near Oxford, which operates across the UK with a network of 60 accredited trainers.

4. NFER has a worldwide reputation for providing independent and rigorous research in education. As a charity, any surplus generated by the Foundation is reinvested in research projects to provide evidence that improves education and the life chances of learners in the UK and beyond. @TheNFER

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